Live Updates: Novak Djokovic’s Visa Is Canceled Again by Australia
The action came days after a judge overruled border officials and allowed the tennis star to stay. Djokovic’s lawyers said they would appeal the decision, with the start of the Australian Open three days away.,
Novak Djokovic practicing on Margaret Court Arena in Melbourne, Australia, on Thursday.Credit…Mark Baker/Associated Press
Novak Djokovic, the Serbian tennis star, had his visa revoked for a second time by the Australian authorities on Friday,the latest dizzying volley in a drawn-out drama over his refusal to be vaccinated for Covid-19.
Australia’s immigration minister, Alex Hawke, said in a statement that he was canceling Djokovic’s visa on the grounds of “health and good order,” adding that it was in the public interest to do so. Djokovic’s lawyers said they would file an appeal immediately, with the Australian Open starting on Monday.
Hawke took the action fourdaysafter Djokovic won a legal victory that freed him from immigration detention, where he had been held since arriving at a Melbourne airport last week.
The minister offered no further details about his decision to revoke the visa, other than to say that the Australian government was committed to protecting the country’s borders during the pandemic.
Djokovic’s lawyers said at a court hearing on Friday night that they would challenge the decision and seek a court order allowing him to remain in the country. But legal experts said he might have little chance of having the decision overturned, after winning his first round in court on narrow procedural grounds.
Mary Crock, a law professor at the University of Sydney, said it would be “very, very hard” for Djokovic to win any appeal. “The rules of natural justice and procedure don’t apply,” she said. So the only way he could appeal would be to prove there is no public-interest basis on which the visa could have been canceled.
A federal investigation led by Hawke had revealed that Djokovic provided false information on the documents he gave to border officials when he tried to enter the country last week.
Those documents failed to state that Djokovic, who lives in Monte Carlo, had traveled between Serbia and Spain during the 14 days ahead of his arrival in Australia.
In a post on social media on Wednesday, Djokovic acknowledged the misstatements and addressed questions about his movements in the days before and after his positive test for the coronavirus on Dec. 16. That test result had allowed him to gain an exemption from state health officials in Victoria to play in the Australian Open, where he is the defending champion, despite being unvaccinated.
“I just want to have the opportunity to compete against the best players in the world and perform before one of the best crowds in the world,” Djokovic said in the post.
Djokovic arrived in Australia late on Jan. 5, where border officials at a Melbourne airport canceled his visa, saying he remained subject to a requirement that everyone entering the country be fully vaccinated. He spent five days at a hotel for refugees and asylum seekers, until a judge on Monday found that he had been treated unfairly, and ordered that Djokovic’s visa be restored.
The court ruling did not put an end to the case, but rather shifted its focus to Djokovic’s supporting documents, the legitimacy of his coronavirus test and basic questions about what Djokovic knew about his diagnosis and when he knew it.
Legally, Hawke, the immigration minister, can cancel a visa on character grounds or if he finds records to be false, or if he believes the visa’s recipient poses a health or safety risk. Hawke made his decision as Australia is in the midst of its worst bout with the coronavirus.
Mike Ives contributed reporting.
Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, defended his immigration minister’s decision to cancel Novak Djokovic’s visa again on Friday, saying that strong border protections have kept Australians safe.
“Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected,” Morrison said in a statement. “This is what the minister is doing in taking this action today.”
Djokovic is expected to appeal the decision, and Morrison said he would not comment further because of “expected ongoing legal proceedings.”
When Morrison explained last week why his government had barred Djokovic from entering the country, he described it as “simply a matter of following the rules” requiring coronavirus vaccinations for incoming travelers.
“People are put on planes and turned back all the time,” he said.
But Djokovic, who had a visa to travel to Australia and a vaccination exemption to compete in the Australian Open, collided not just with the country’s tough border restrictions after arriving at a Melbourne airport. He also found himself at the center of a highly charged moment in Australia’s fight against the coronavirus.
With an election on the horizon, a sharp shift in pandemic strategy — from “Covid-zero” to “living with the virus” — has put Morrison’s government under intense pressure. Cases have surged to once unimaginable heights, pushing the country’s testing system to the limit and raising anxiety among a population that has already endured long lockdowns.
After nearly two years of suppressing the virus, the Australian authorities began to change tack late last year as vaccination rates reached ambitious thresholds. Harsh restrictions that once kept people from traveling between states or to other countries, or from even leaving their homes, have been replaced by adages about “personal responsibility.”
Still, shortages of rapid antigen tests have left pharmacy and supermarket shelves bare, and there are concerns about hospital capacity amid reports that some coronavirus-positive nurses have been called back to work because of staffing gaps.
All of that has left little sympathy in Australia for Djokovic, who has been dismissive toward the pandemic and emerged as professional tennis’s most prominent vaccine skeptic.
That is particularly true in Melbourne, where the Australian Open is held, and where residents have endured a total of 256 days of lockdown, in part to spare the rest of Australia from outbreaks. Unvaccinated Melburnians are still barred from some activities, and those wishing to attend the Australian Open must be vaccinated.
Novak Djokovic’s lawyers said on Friday night that they would challenge the Australian immigration minister’s decision to cancel his visa again, but experts said that he would find it much more difficult than his first court challenge.
If he doesn’t want to simply comply with the cancellation and leave the country, he will need to apply for a court injunction to stop the Australian authorities from deporting him while his lawyers file a challenge, according to Mary Anne Kenny, an associate professor of law at Murdoch University.
That would allow him to stay in the country, but he would most likely be held in immigration detention, where he was kept for five days before his first court challenge.
He could, however, apply to the government for a bridging visa to let him stay out of immigration detention and continue to play tennis. But according to Daniel Estrin, an immigration lawyer, Djokovic is unlikely to be granted such a visa because he would have to abide by the condition that he cannot work. His participation in the Australian Open which begins on Monday, then, would disqualify him.
But because Hawke’s discretionary powers are so broad, Estrin and Kenny said Djokovic would find it significantly more difficult than his first appeal.
The minister just needed to demonstrate that Djokovic might be a risk to the health, safety or good order of the Australian community, Estrin said. That is a very low threshold — “anyone might be a risk to the Australian community if you look at it very broadly” — making it extremely difficult for Djokovic to argue his case on substance, he added.
Instead, Djokovic would need to prove that Hawke made an “jurisdictional error,” or applied the law wrong, Estrin said — a much higher legal threshold.
Djokovic’s lawyers will not be allowed to replead his case or argue that he should have been allowed into Australia, Estrin said, meaning that, as in his first appeal, he would have to succeed on procedural grounds.
“The court doesn’t look at whether the minister made the right decision,” Estrin said. “The court will only look at whether the minister committed some error of law.”
Didn’t an Australian judge rule that Novak Djokovic could stay in the country? Yes. But it did not exactly guarantee that he wouldn’t still be deported.
The judge who ordered the Serbian tennis star’s release from immigration detention on Monday found that he had been treated unfairly after his arrival at a Melbourne airport for the Australian Open. After detaining Djokovic, the border authorities promised to let him speak with tournament organizers and his lawyers early on Jan. 6, only to cancel his visa before he was given a chance.
The judge, Anthony Kelly, ruled that was unfair, and he ordered both Djokovic’s release and the reinstatement of his visa. (In effect, the judge had ruled on the process, not the underlying evidence on which Djokovic had obtained his visa and his medical exemption to compete.)
Within hours, Djokovic’s family had held a news conference in Belgrade, Serbia, hailing the ruling, and Djokovic had posted a photo from his first practice session ahead of the Australian Open.
On Thursday evening, Djokovic was named the top seed in the men’s draw, in line to compete for a men’s record 21st Grand Slam title, and set to face compatriot Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round.
But on Friday morning, the immigration minister used his authority to cancel the visa. The cancellation of Djokovic’s visa could also lead to an automatic three-year ban on his entering the country, although in a statement on Friday, the immigration minister, Alex Hawke, made no mention of that penalty.
Novak Djokovic’s ordeal in Australia may presage other battles ahead as the attitudes of sporting bodies, health authorities and public opinion harden toward the non-vaccinated, even if they are glittering global sports stars.
While it is highly unlikely Djokovic, an outspoken vaccine skeptic, will find himself sequestered again in any other country over visa issues, his trouble in Melbourne is an indication of some of the resistance or obstacles he could face in the months ahead if he continues to attempt to travel the world without being vaccinated for Covid-19.
Governments are running out of forbearance, instituting or debating vaccine mandates, and some tennis officials are running out of patience, too. And the pace and direction of the coronavirus pandemic and its variants is unknown.
The next major events on the men’s tour after the Australian Open are the Masters 1000 events in March in Indian Wells, Calif., and Miami. But the United States now requires that visitors be fully vaccinated to travel to the country by plane unless they are U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents or traveling on a U.S. immigrant visa. Only limited exceptions apply, and it is unclear whether Djokovic would qualify for one or would even want to try to qualify for one after the Australian imbroglio.
The French Open, the year’s next Grand Slam tournament, begins in May and appears less problematic for him. Roxana Maracineanu, the French sports minister, told French national radio last week that she expected that Djokovic would be allowed to enter the country and compete if unvaccinated because of the health protocols that are planned for major international sporting events in France.
But in the same interview, Maracineanu emphasized that any athlete, French or foreign, who was a resident in France would be required to show proof of vaccination to have access to sports training facilities.
Some professional leagues have left loopholes in place, but they are also plugging gaps. Djokovic, who has long held nontraditional views on science, finds himself in the distinct minority, with more than 90 percent of the top 100 players on the ATP Tour now vaccinated.
In 2022, the tour will not require vaccinated players to take more than an initial test once they arrive at a tournament unless they develop symptoms. Unvaccinated players and team members will have to be tested regularly.
While Djokovic won in court on Monday, he has undoubtedly lost support in the court of public opinion. The backlash against him in Australia was amplified by his willful refusal for months to clarify his plans for the Open.
The pitched battle in Australia highlighted a new dynamic: Athletes once viewed favorably as iconoclasts are now encountering pushback when they want to play by different rules than everyone else.
BELGRADE, Serbia — The Australian immigration minister’s decision to revoke Novak Djokovic’s visa again sparked expressions of outrage in Serbia, where the tennis star is a national hero.
“One of the biggest sports scandals in the 21st century,” was the take on Friday in Blic, one of the Serbia’s largest tabloids.
In recent days, after the Australian government first detained Djokovic and threatened to deport him last week, his family has gathered supporters and reporters in Belgrade, the Serbian capital, to rally to his defense.
“Novak is Serbia and Serbia is Novak,” Srdjan Djokovic, the tennis star’s father, thundered. “They are trampling on Novak and thus they are trampling on Serbia and the Serbian people.”
Perhaps an overstatement. But not by much. To say Djokovic is a beloved sports star in Serbia, his homeland, is something of an understatement.
His image beams out from posters plastered across the city and graffiti scrawled on buildings in the housing complex in Belgrade where he spent much of his childhood.
In a country that has adopted a fairly casual approach to the coronavirus — where people tend to go about their business as they always have whatever the official rules of the moment — people have watched the unfolding saga in Australia over Djokovic’s refusal to be vaccinated with a mixture of anger, bewilderment and resentment.
Djokovic also has the backing of both the government and the powerful Serbian Orthodox Church.
After a judge ruled in Djokovic’s favor on Monday, overturning an initial decision to revoke Djokovic’s visa, his parents gathered supporters at the family restaurant in Belgrade, “Novak,” declaring the decision a victory for “justice” and “freedom.”
“He fought for freedom of thought, freedom of speech,” his father said. “The fact he comes from small and impoverished country was not something big, powerful people liked. They thought they had God-given powers that this world is their world, and it is impossible that a young man from a small, poor country can be the best in their sport.”
As the controversy continued to play out, his family could still be found at the family restaurant — a shrine to their son’s achievements. Often they sat in a private trophy room near the entrance of the dining area, surrounded by nearly every silver chalice the 34-year-old has won over the course of a storied career.
On Friday, they got the news that — at least for the moment — he would not be able to add another Australian Open title to the collection.
Novak Djokovic, the top player in men’s tennis and its leading vaccine skeptic, has had his visa canceled for the second time by the government of Australia, where he had arrived last week hoping to defend his Australian Open title.
Here’s a look at how the standoff has unfolded:
A surprise exemption gave Djokovic an apparent chance to avoid Australia’s tough vaccination rules.
Djokovic has won the last three Australian Open men’s singles championships, and a record nine in his career. But he has received scrutiny for his unscientific beliefs, including his support for a claim that positive emotions can purify toxic water or food, and he has shunned the coronavirus vaccine.
Last year, the Australian Open announced that participants in this month’s tournament would have to be fully vaccinated, in line with requirements for entering the country. Djokovic’s participation was seen as unlikely until he announced Jan. 4 that he would play after receiving an exemption. It was later learned that his exemption was based on a recent coronavirus infection.
The federal government stopped Djokovic at the border.
Djokovic was stopped at the airport in Melbourne late on Jan. 5 after flying from Spain via Dubai, United Arab Emirates. He was questioned for hours at the airport before being sent to a quarantine hotel.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia, who has faced criticism over the government’s Covid-19 response, announced that Djokovic’s entry had been denied because he was unvaccinated. Federal officials said that a previous coronavirus infection was not valid grounds for the vaccination exemption granted by Australian tennis officials and local authorities in Victoria, the state where the tournament is held.
Djokovic, who was taken to a quarantine hotel pending his departure, immediately filed a legal appeal.
Djokovic won an appeal, but questions soon arose.
On Monday, after Djokovic had spent five days at a hotel for refugees and asylum seekers, a judge ruled that he had been treated unfairly at the airport, denied a promised chance to contact his lawyers or Australian Open officials, and reinstated his visa.
But documents released as part of the legal proceedings raised questions about Djokovic’s actions.
Records showed that he took a coronavirus test at 1:05 p.m. on Dec. 16 in Belgrade, Serbia, and received the positive result seven hours later. But social media posts showed that he had attended two public events on the day he sought his test, and also a tennis event a day later in Belgrade, where he presented awards to children. And Franck Ramella, a reporter with the French sports newspaper L’Equipe, wrote this week that when he conducted an interview with Djokovic on Dec. 18, he did not know that the athlete had just tested positive.
Questions also arose over whether Djokovic had made a false statement on his entry form to Australia when he said that he had not traveled internationally in the 14 days before his flight from Spain. Social media posts showed him in Serbia on Christmas Day.
Djokovic acknowledged mistakes.
In a statement on Wednesday, Djokovic said he was not yet aware that he had tested positive when he attended the children’s event, and acknowledged that he had made a poor decision not to cancel the interview with the French journalist. He said that a member of his support team had made a “human error” when filling out his paperwork.
But the statement, which read as both a late request for leniency and an explanation for irresponsible behavior, may have come too late. By then, Australia’s immigration minister, Alex Hawke, was already giving serious consideration to using his powers to cancel the visa for the second time.